She was a punk, and he did ballet (or rather, played baseball), but there’s far more to say1.
Age: Young Adult
First Published: 28th May 2013
Date Reviewed: 31st May 2013
To win the current round of dares, Ryan has to get the phone number of the girl at the drive-thru counter, and it would have been a lot easier if she wasn’t a ‘skater’. Beth tries her best to protect her mother, whose boyfriend beats both of them up, and when she [Beth] takes the blame for Trent’s injuries, uncle Scott suddenly swoops in and takes her to Groveton. Beth hates Scott for abandoning her as a child, but the biggest issue she’ll have is when Scott introduces her to the boy who’ll help her find her way in school – and that person is Ryan, the jock from the taco bar. Baseball and grunge don’t tend to make a good match, but if Ryan’s to win the resurrected bet he’ll have to get past Beth’s curses. He’s likely to fall in love in the process.
She stares at my wrist, then at my jeans. “I see your tastes haven’t changed.”
“No,” I say. “But Ryan’s have.”
Dare You To is a book that will appeal to many readers, even those who would typically pass up on YA. McGarry’s story and writing style fit an older time – Dare You To is unlike the current crop of books out there and has an old school feel to it. The best way to describe it would be to say it’s akin to a darker, gritty, non-musical Grease, or 10 Things I Hate About You, where the hero and heroine are from completely different backgrounds and no one can see the relationship working. That said, the usage of the word ‘dark’ and the reference to these two films does not describe the book correctly. This book is similar at its foundations, but it is full of angst, domestic violence, drugs and alcohol. It could be said to straddle the border between YA and New Adult, and whilst Ryan may be innocent in his so-called perfect world, McGarry holds nothing back when detailing Beth’s life.
Given the above it may come as no surprise to hear that there is little weakness to the characters (of that annoying kind) and no silly choices. The characters are strong and although they both have issues, when they are upset, it remains realistic. There is so much detail and reality to these characters it’s evident that McGarry has put her heart and soul into the storytelling. There is a lot of angst and sadness, but none of it is excessive or there for little reason. The book never wanders away from its subject, and whilst the inevitable budding relationship between Ryan and Beth obviously changes things, invites love and romance, the characters do not change beyond loving looks and the odd understandable blushing and weak knees. They never lose sight of their dreams.
So to the darkness. This is not a book for teens at the beginning years of the life stage. Beth is 17, a drug user and a drinker. She has had one heck of a terrible life with her mother, a woman who will not protect her child (rather Beth protects her), and when Ryan meets Beth’s group of friends he provides the outsider perspective on what the group is (although in that last point, there is not so much worry for younger readers). And Beth is no stranger to sex. Her friends are supportive of her, rather than bringing her down, which one might have assumed from the first descriptions of their living conditions, Isaiah and Noah work to help Beth see that the life Scott has gifted her is the better one, that it would ruin her future to stay with her mother. Ryan’s own family has problems, though here it’s a case of perfection on the surface, and estrangement underneath. His town is religious, anything that bucks the trend and doesn’t conform is shunned. Everything blended together, it has to be said that McGarry has structured and written her book brilliantly, and without leaning on the support of extreme drama and the confrontation of multiple families.
As for the writing, as previously accounted for it is good. McGarry has a firm hand on the dialogue. Everyone gets to the point with little waiting involved, and characters say what you would expect them to. The book is told from the perspectives of Ryan and Beth, going back and forth between them. There are rarely any gaps in time; as soon as Ryan’s chapter ends Beth’s takes over in a heartbeat. This means that you get to see every shared moment from both points of view, and means that no curtains are drawn over uncomfortable situations.
There are but a couple of aspects that could have used a little more work. Firstly, there are several pages devoted to the plight of a bird that is clearly a metaphor for Beth. It’s not bad, but it continues for too long and the point is made repeatedly. Secondly, and this may not be a problem depending on the reader’s location and the media they consume, although Ryan and Beth are a ‘jock’ and ‘skater’, from the perspective of a reader not well acquainted with these terms and styles (for example a non-American) it may be the case that the wrong conclusion is reached about who the characters are. More description at the beginning would have worked well here, although it does become obvious later on. Considering that these two issues are not of paramount importance, it would be difficult to pursue them further, and in the case of the metaphor it is easy to see why McGarry used it, even if it is unnecessary.
Dare You To achieves something that Young Adult novels have not, recently, and that is a demonstration that one can write a romance into a book without glossing over the strength and common-sense of the characters. It offers knowledge of difficult subjects unapologetically and brings to the forefront the strife that is the social situation for many people, not just teens.
The decision for how to end this review is perhaps the most uncomplicated for a long time. Dare You To is an exceptional and different Young Adult novel that may be just what you’ve been looking for.
I received this book for review from Harlequin.
1 A play on Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8ter Boi”.
June 7, 2013, 11:43 am
I’m so glad to read how much you liked this! It’s on my couch as we speak waiting in line for me to read it! :–)
June 12, 2013, 10:34 am
Sounds good! A little more adult than Simone Elkeles’s books, maybe?